The Escape, during sea trials.

The Escape, during sea trials.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced they will add a smoking section into the casino, which will serve as a test, before potentially adding similar to other ships in the fleet. The enclosed smoking section will have a number of table games and slots, and will be fully ventilated.

The Escape will remain smoke-free until Caribbean itineraries begin November 9th, 2015.

NCL Jewel

NCL Begins Port Houston Service

Norwegian Cruise Line returned to the Port of Houston for the first time in more than seven years with the arrival of Norwegian Jewel on Saturday, October 11 at the Bayport Cruise Terminal. This inaugural call marked the beginning of the 2014 fall cruise season for Houston. The Norwegian Jewel will sail 27 Western Caribbean cruises through April 11, 2015.

Oasis of the Seas Upgrades

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Oasis of the Seas, which completed a 14-day drydock October 14th, has a new look, including “reimagined dining,” high-speed internet, new retail offerings, a new Broadway show, and new suites with exclusive suite dining and a lounge. Royal Caribbean’s Dynamic Dining offers guests more choices and flexibility by offering 20 restaurants, said to be as vast and varied as dining in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Crystal ReCRYSTAL-CRUISES-LOGO1ceives Atlantic Alliance Award

The Atlantic Alliance has given Crystal Cruises its “Triple A – Award” for 2015, which it presented to Crystal in Los Angeles last week. Each year the Atlantic Alliance awards cruise companies that have made a particularly significant contribution to the region with its “Triple A – Award”.

Holland America Adds Pros to Dancing with the Stars at Sea

Holland America Line has added the professional dancers Sharna Burgess and Artem Chigvintsev to the remaining two 2014 Dancing with the Stars: At Seatheme cruises. Both currently performing on the ABC hit show Dancing with the Stars, Burgess and Chigvintsev will join the Westerdam departing Nov. 29 and the Champions Cruise that sets sail Dec. 6. Both cruises sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.

C-Equinox_090731-2492_bAll Inclusive Packages Offered by Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises has announced an All-Included Europe Package beginning Monday, Oct. 13. Guests can now fly directly from New York or New Jersey where they can embark on their European vacation. The Celebrity All-Included Europe Package is available for the following prices: $2,999 Oceanview lead rate for seven-night Celebrity Equinox Mediterranean sailings; $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 12-nights on the Silhouette to the Baltic; and $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 10- or 11-nights on the Reflection on Mediterranean sailings.

The package is available on seven-to-12-night European cruises ocean view or higher stateroom sailing between April 27 and October 12, 2015 on the three ships with round-trip, non-stop flights from JFK or Newark to Barcelona,  Rome, Amsterdam , Venice, Istanbul, Stockholm and Athens. Onboard amenities include a Classic Beverage Package for two including beer, wine and spirits;  non-alcoholic beverage packages for third and fourth guests; all cruise gratuities;  air and cruise taxes and port fees; and round-trip ground transfers.

Carnival Vista Construction Begins

Carnival Cruise Lines’ celebrated the keel-laying of its newest ship, the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista, in a ceremony held last week at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone. The 133,500-ton vessel – the largest “Fun Ship” ever constructed – is set to debut in spring 2016.

Chinese Ports Brace For Immense Growth

By 2020, if estimates are correct, China’s cruise market will make up 4.5 million passengers and $8 billion in local economic impact. With that potential, government-backed ports are working hard to upgrade their infrastructure in time for new tonnage and more ships.

vikingstarViking Ocean Names Captain of Viking Star

Viking Ocean Cruises has announced that Captain Gulleik Svalastog will be at the helm of its first ocean ship – the 930-passenger Viking Star – which will sail its first cruise in April 2015.

Carnival Corp May Start Entry Level Chinese Cruise Line

Carnival Corporation is making moves in China and may add another brand to its portfolio in a Chinese entry-level/mass market cruise product.

Four Home Ports and Quantum in China for Royal Caribbean

Putting the Quantum of the Seas in China will not only attract new Chinese passengers but also promote pre- and post-China visits from international guests, according to Adam Goldstein, president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Building up in China, Royal Caribbean International will sail the Mariner from Tianjin in 2015, the Quantum from Shanghai, the Legend from Xiamen and the Voyager from Hong Kong, according to Goldstein, speaking today at the China Cruise Shipping Expo hosted by the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association.

Ruby Princess Helps Set Port Saint John History

Port Saint John welcomed its 1000th cruise call on Oct. 16, while last year marked the 25th anniversary of cruising to Saint John since 1989.

The Rhapsody in Brazil: 2015-2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Rhapsody of the Seas will be deployed in the Brazilian market, sailing from Santos for 2015/2016 season. The Rhapsody will arrive in Santos December 5, 2015 and will be on the South American coast until April 10, 2016.

Ebola Scare on Carnival’s Magic

Late afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 15, CCL was made aware, by the U.S. CDC, of a guest sailing this week on board Carnival Magic who is a lab supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. This person handled specimens from the patient who died at that hospital earlier in the month. At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples. She was deemed by CDC to be very low risk. At the time of this posting, this hospital worker was cleared of the disease, The Magic returned home, and everyone was cleared to disembark.

Mediterranean Cruise-Land Package by MSC for Divina in 2015

MSC Cruises has announced inclusive air/land/sea vacation package deals for guests sailing on MSC Divina, the line’s largest ship specifically dedicated to North American travelers, while the ship is in the Mediterranean from May 16 through Sept. 19, 2015. Starting at $1,899, the 10-night package includes round-trip airfare to Rome or Barcelona, a seven-night cruise, a two-night post-cruise stay in a four-star hotel, and all transfers needed, including from the airport to the ship, from the ship to the hotel and from the hotel back to the airport.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

We have some news, with the help of Cruise Industry News, coming out of 2014 Cruise Shipping Miami yesterday:

4th Quantum Class Ship for Royal Caribbean?

RCCI's Quantum Class cruise ship.

RCCI’s Quantum Class cruise ship.

It isn’t a done deal, but it was overheard that a contract for a fourth Quantum-class ship may become reality.
Our thoughts: We like the Quantum-concept, but hopefully Royal Caribbean will find a way to give each sister ship her own identity. The Oasis and the Allure, for instance, are pretty close to being identical twins, versus fraternal twins.

Norwegian Escape Home Port and Hull Art

Norwegian Escape with its hull art to be designed by Guy Harvey. She'll homeport in Miami year-round.

Norwegian Escape with its hull art to be designed by Guy Harvey. She’ll homeport in Miami year-round.

NCL announced the Norwegian Escape will home port year-round in Miami, and that the hull art is to be designed by Guy Harvey.
Our thoughts: One of the nicer, less gaudy works of art for the hull. And, when is NCL going to position a ship in Fort Lauderdale, even if for half the year?  And we thought Carnival took forever on this.

Faster Internet Delayed

A diagram of the O3b satellite.

A diagram of the O3b satellite.

The much hyped O3b satellite internet was destined to launch on the Oasis and Allure of the Seas in late 2013. A bit behind, but still on target to debut aboard, according to a source familiar with the start-up satellite firm. Low-orbiting satellites have been launched and provide more bandwidth and less latency, but are extremely complicated to operate and manage. Royal Caribbean expects to introduce its O3b service later this year.
Our thoughts: Better late than never. High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but an everyday part of life for many, particularly those with the means to spend money on travel. This should have been done, on all brands, a long time ago.

The Port of Newcastle, Australia

Port of Newcastle, Australia.

Port of Newcastle, Australia.

The Port of Newcastle in Australia is going after itinerary planners with a new stunning coffee table book presenting the port (check it out here). Among top layout and photography, the book presents a number of arguments to bringing a ship to Newcastle – showing off the Australian destination’s features.
Our thoughts: We love new. We love different. In addition to customer service, the two best ways to lure repeat passengers is to provide innovations fleet-wide and exciting, new itineraries.

The NCL Sky did have an atrium, but you still couldn't "cross-over" to some areas without going up one deck, then back down.

The NCL Sky did have an atrium, but you still couldn’t “cross-over” to some areas without going up one deck, then back down.

Well, I think it is, if it is used properly. I am speaking of cruise ships, of course, and the ongoing debate on passengers’ preferences with regards to ship size and passenger space.

I’ve maintained mixed feelings about this for years, ever since setting foot on the first 100,000-plus ton cruise ship, the Carnival Destiny. But, this past weekend after sailing onboard the Norwegian Sky, I think I’ve made up my mind.

The newer, larger ships are quite simply easier to navigate, to get to where you want to go. Sure, there is more walking involved, but for the most part the public spaces are accessible without having to master the art of the maze.

This past weekend alone brought back memories to cruising yesteryear, when you had to go up a deck, cross over, and then back down to get to, say, one of the dining rooms. We had to do this on the NCL Sky, a ship built “way back” in 1999. While the ships today are getting larger (a downer for some), a direct shot to all of the public spaces is pretty much the standard.

What do you think?

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As big as the cruise industry is, I am quite surprised with the lack of local advertising, aimed at folks who live within short driving distances of home ports. I’ve lived in South Florida for over 22 years, and I would see at least a dozen commercials a week, from Disney World, promoting deals for Florida residents. Look, I realize the industry’s bread and butter is the extended holiday/vacation, and the short cruise business may be doing well enough, but there are more dollars to be made there.

All across the U.S., particularly in or near port cities, casinos and entertainment venues are popping up. In many cases, they are popping up because people want things to do before and after their cruises. I know I would purposely arrive to ports like New Orleans a day or two early just to enjoy what the city has to offer! But what about the locals? For those who enjoy a night out, like a nice dinner for two, followed by a show and maybe drinks and/or dancing afterwards…this can get pricey!

Some weekend cruises rival the cost of one night out in Miami!

Some weekend cruises rival the cost of one night out in Miami!

Well, if you live near a cruise home port, and can make weekend getaway decisions within a window of one to two weeks (give or take), a weekend cruise can cost you significantly less than ONE night on the town for two people! That’s right, call the babysitter…call the grand parents…you are going to want to get away for the weekend because we are going to do  a comparison!

We recently dined at a well-known steakhouse in Miami, followed by a show with drinks. Here is the breakdown:

  • 1 Pea Soup: $9.50
  • 1 Stone Crab: $24.00
  • 1 Lamb Chops: $46.00
  • 1 Colorado Ribs: $53.00
  • 1 Creamed Spinach: $12.50
  • 2 Glasses House Red Wine: $24.00
  • 2 Import Beers: $19.00
  • 1 German Chocolate Cake: $9.00

Then at the show, a Broadway musical, two tickets were $120 and four drinks cost us $32. The figures above, not including tax and gratuities, total $349.

Just recently, on February 10, Norwegian Cruise Line had several fares, for a 4-nighter, starting at $119 per person.

Weekend cruises were advertised as low as $134 per person. Port charges and fees are a bit extra, but prices for three and four nights certainly rivaled our night out in this case. And for those of you who may be cruise newbies, what was included with the cruise advertised for $119pp? Well, five complimentary dining options, all entertainment in the Theatre and Show Lounge and live music and dancing venues throughout the ship, fitness center/sports court/pools/hot tubs, youth programs (if needed) and of course, excellent service! Oh, and yes…two tropical destinations along the way!

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Shorter cruises offer many benefits, such as an alternative to land-based casinos (and you don’t have to drive home after drinking) and allowing new cruisers to try it out for a shorter period and a lower cost. It is also a great change from trying to find parking at local entertainment venues and beaches around the U.S. One of our Facebook fans had her own reason…she arrived for her 7-day cruise a few days early, and taking a three night cruise (before her longer cruise) was  much less expensive than staying in a hotel for two nights. Yes, hotel rates on cruise weekends, in port cities are not cheap, and, you better reserve early!

We can help with your cruise wants and needs. We can also answer your questions. Check out our new sister website, CruiseCX.com, and start researching your next cruise or travel escape. Happy Hump Day everybody!

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The Cruise Customer Experience includes so many factors: research, the booking process, on-board experience, flight (getting to the port) and much more. But, what about the time leading up to your next cruise, the period from the time you make deposits (or final payments) to the time you begin your trek to the port? Sure, there’s dieting (maybe?), shopping, researching ports of call and excursions, online check-in, but, what if you could get a bit of a cruise fix in between times of the actual cruise?

If you live near a port city, you can actually visit port inlets and view the cruise ships as they depart for their journeys. You can view them as they arrive, too, but that is typically before the sun comes up! There is also YouTube, of course, where thousands of cruise videos can be found. Videos ranging from corporate marketing pieces to those created by passengers and crew.

Then, there’s my favorite…Live Webcams, particularly cams providing live, moving video. Below I have provided links to several active webcams. The PortCams are particularly interesting, as they are in HD and provide Live Video, great for cruise ship fans and boating/yachting buffs alike. Enjoy!

PORT WEBCAMS

CRUISE SHIP WEBCAMS

Note: With some of the Cruise Line links above, you will have to choose the ship first, then, if the ship has a Cam, click on the Cam link.  Once again, Enjoy!!

GetawayCamera2smallYesterday during a ceremony in Bremerhaven, Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of the 145,655 gross ton cruise ship, Norwegian Getaway, from Meyer Werft after a building period of only 15 months. This is the second of two Breakaway-class ships, and is being delivered only nine months after the launch of sister ship Norwegian Breakaway. The ship will be christened in Miami on February 7.

Before her arrival into Port of Miami, Norwegian said it had arranged a private charter of the 4,000-passenger ship in New York from January 29 to February 5. Those dates overlap with the 2014 Super Bowl, which is being played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, on February 2. Her first week-long cruise (and inaugural Caribbean cruise from Miami), takes place on February 8 (Saturday to Saturday).

Here are Some Additional Highlights

  • Nestor Torres

    Nestor Torres

    Latin GRAMMY® Award winner Nestor Torres will headline Norwegian Getaway’s GRAMMY® Experience at Sea.  Torres is the first artist to join Norwegian’s newest ship as part of the line’s partnership with The Recording Academy® that named the line “Official Cruise Line Partner of the GRAMMY Awards®

  • Norwegian Getaway will feature a new lunchtime entertainment experience for guests, WINE LOVERS THE MUSICAL
  • Norwegian Getaway will feature several restaurants and bars that evoke the tropical feel of Miami and South Florida. The Tropicana Room, Flamingo Bar & Grill, Sunset Bar and Sugarcane Bar will be new and unique additions to the largest ship to homeport in Miami year-round
  • Master Baker Buddy Valastro, star of the popular TLC television series “Cake Boss” and “Next Great Baker,” will open his second Carlo’s Bake Shop at sea on the new Norwegian Getaway
  • Entrance into the Illusionarium

    Entrance into the Illusionarium

    Seven-time Tony Award nominated musical LEGALLY BLONDE will be featured on Norwegian Getaway, along with an additional Broadway show: the dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR, and an all-new stand-up comedy program in partnership with Levity Entertainment Group, the largest producer of comedians in the world.  The line also introduced all of the varied and exciting entertainment acts and venues that will debut on the ship, including Howl at the Moon at Headliners Comedy Club. These exciting entertainment experiences are in addition to Norwegian Getaway’s Illusionarium and Grammy Experience.

These are just a few of the highlights and innovations on board the Norwegian Getaway. You can experience much more at Norwegian Cruise Line’s website!

Atrium on the Sovereign of the Seas

Atrium on the Sovereign of the Seas

The largest ships in 1992 were the Sovereign-class (Royal Caribbean) and Norwegian Cruise Line’s SS Norway (after its expansion refit), and they were in the mid to upper 70,000-ton range. Today, smaller main-stream cruise ships are said to be in the 115,000-ton range and the largest (right now) is the Allure of the Seas at 225,282. That’s about seven (7) Titanics. It seems the industry is going through what airlines already went through; cram as many people into the structure as possible, and hope the passenger experience will not suffer.

The gradual trend towards mass market mega-ships got me thinking about how much thought went into the service aspect, and whether the decision-makers (of the cruise lines) realize the difference between Customer Experience and Customer Service. The ‘service’ is part of the ‘experience,’ a piece of it. Adding all of these new amenities, like obstacle courses, alternative dining venues, bowling alleys, surfing and skydiving simulations, lookout points, mainstream partnerships (for name brand food and product on board) and more (I know I left out a bunch) are wonderful. They ADD to the experience. With the exception of perhaps Disney, are the cruise companies staying on top of the customer care aspect of the Customer Experience?

I am divided on this question. I still think that cruise ship service is like pizza, meaning that even when it is sub-par, it is still pretty damn good.

A Eurodam Cabana

A Eurodam Cabana

My best personal example was a cruise on Holland America’s Eurodam, when she was new. I expected typical Holland America service, but while the cruise was still a cruise (the pizza!), the service was sub-par for Holland America, and it detracted from the overall experience. Items in the buffet ran out BEFORE they replaced them, and this happened more than once. I am not a complainer, but this was Holland America! We also paid for the private cabana for the week, another new amenity added by Holland America on the Eurodam. It seems management did not train the staff, as we were supposed to have iPods with headphones, chocolate covered strawberries, fruit bowls, bottled water and champagne everyday. We, and parties around us, had to inform the staff what we paid for; they either forgot or did not know, and I tend to believe the latter, since it was consistent.

PRE-PAID GRATUITIES and SERVICE
Pre-paid Gratuities, are you a fan? It sure is convenient, but the first time I became aware of it, as a Customer Experience guy, I said to myself, “Now, they don’t have to work for it.” Couple this with the concept of Anytime Dining (or any variation of a name based on Cruise Line), and you have an equation for (potential) lesser service. Sure, you can request the same waiter, but then it is no longer Anytime Dining, because there may be a wait to get seated with your server of choice! Have you ever tried going to the Purser’s Desk on the last day of the cruise to remove the auto-gratuities? Those lines will make you want to jump overboard! I also realize you do not have to choose Anytime Dining on most cruise lines, but the pre-paid gratuities are still part of the service equation.

Service on cruises is still above average in this author’s opinion. But, it is the personalized service to which I’m referring. Cruises used to be known for personalized service, and while you can still get it today, you will pay significantly more for it. NCL and MSC have specific “ship within a ship” programs in place. You can also pay to cruise on a more upscale line, such as Seabourn, for smaller ships and elite services.

ARE THE LATEST AMENITIES A DISTRACTION FROM CHANGES WITH SERVICE?

Bumper cars will be on Quantum of the Seas.

Bumper cars will be on Quantum of the Seas.

It seems that the current resort-styled cruise ships, loaded with mainstream corporate partnerships, will be the norm for some time to come. Several people have written to me stating that they feel the new concepts are not only adding to the experience, but also serve as a distraction from the lack of personalized service in other areas. The mentality that if passengers have such a great experience in certain areas, they/we will (hopefully) forget about experiences that no longer exist to their former heights. This might be true, and it seems to be working.

Even with all of the negative press lately, people are cruising in record numbers as ships continue to get larger, with all kinds of entertainment options and activities. With all of these “distractions”, we overlook that our staterooms aren’t finished when we return from breakfast; that we have different servers during dinner each night, and our regular “wants” aren’t there before we arrive; that empty bottles and glasses linger around the pool areas and hallways longer; that mints on our pillows have disappeared.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Toyota or Lexus…Carnival or Holland America? What do I mean? In the past most of the mass market lines were all pretty similar with regards to offerings. You can still find cruises that are more service-focused in nature. Today, you pick and choose your ship based on what you are looking for in a cruise. If you want a family-friendly cruise, with lots to do regardless of age, you may choose Royal Caribbean. If it’s all about the kids, perhaps Disney. Want a more subdued cruise experience, sail with Celebrity or Holland America.

This may seem like a rant, but it isn’t meant to be. I do feel that there are certain aspects of the Customer Experience that are overlooked, purposely, because of economics. In mass market cruising it is a reality; many lines have positioned themselves to be more entertainment oriented (sit, watch and enjoy) as well as activity oriented (we are a part of the action: bowling; surfing; zip lining, obstacle courses, etc.). This ALLOWS the cruise lines to be less service oriented (depending on the brand). But, this is not a bad thing. We now have several options. And, cruise vacations, now more than ever, can be as boring or as exciting as you choose for them to be.

So, do the CEOs of cruise lines actually care about the customer? I like to think they do…and if they do, it sure is a different philosophy than what cruising was in the mid 90’s and earlier!

The Norwegian Getaway, twin to the Breakaway, will sail year-round from the Port of Miami.

The Norwegian Getaway, twin to the Breakaway, will sail year-round from the Port of Miami.

Norwegian Cruise Line has been named “Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Line” by the World Travel Awards. The 20th annual awards, held on September 14 in Antigua, bestow the world’s top travel companies with honors for outstanding products and services and are voted on by travel professionals and consumers from around the globe.

Norwegian, which has been voted Europe’s Leading Cruise Line for six consecutive years as well as the World’s Leading Large Ship Cruise Line, has eight spectacular Freestyle Cruising vessels sailing the Caribbean this winter from four convenient departure ports, and will soon have a ship sailing to the Caribbean year-round from Miami when Norwegian Getaway joins the fleet in February 2014.

You can read more here and here!